The history of picture framing began when the first meaningful pictures appeared. The first frames were made of mosaic or drawn around the painting itself. They were inseparable from the picture and both were usually placed on the wall of a building.
After the appearance of iconography, frames started to be made of wood. The first primitive examples date back to the 13th century, although “real” paintings and therefore real frames appeared in the 14th century.
Frames acquired the form we know today during the Renaissance, with the appearance of classical canvas paintings. They began to be made of expensive woods and were decorated with precious metals and stones, ivory, pearl and tortoise shell. A picture frame became a complete masterpiece in itself.
The production of picture frames attained a peak of professional skill in the 16th century when numerous frame workshops opened up. All were staffed by master craftsmen in the arts of carpentry and carving since the mouldings manufacturing techniques were beyond the technology of the time.
Artists usually selected or even made the frames for their artworks by themselves. That was the time when graphic artists started to use so-called “mats” – a wide light field made of card, edged with a thin frame around the image. The shape and the colour of the frame depended on the era and fashion: massive gilded frames were popular in the Baroque era, while the Dutch painters preferred to decorate their paintings with restrained and dark frames. Old painters believed that a picture frame is so important, that they usually painted the picture on a canvas already in its frame, correlating the colours of the picture to that of the frame.
Nowadays frames are made of a wide variety of materials – plastic, aluminium, woods of different types, glass and ceramics. Picture frame design usually follows the latest trends in interior and architecture design, although pictures are usually framed according to their era and style.
In the high-tech age, picture frames have moved from the real world into the virtual world. Our generation is used to seeing almost all images, photos and paintings through computer or TV screens. People’s photos are stored in the bowels of their computers, and nobody can see their artworks and happy memories. Online art galleries, displaying artworks of trendy and popular artists, are more popular now than the real ones, and all the well-known museums of the world have their own websites. This means that thanks to rapid development, the world of art is easy to reach with few mouse clicks, which gives us an amazing opportunity to enjoy old masterpieces as if we were in the same room.
It is impossible to imagine an artwork without a frame even in a virtual world. Framed paintings acquire a totally new status, no longer random guests in a space, but respected, honoured and dedicated elements of it.
A good frame is kind of a test for a painting. A weak painting cannot be framed with a luxury frame, otherwise, all of its imperfections would become even more obvious. On the contrary, if a picture is a true masterpiece, a well-chosen frame would only emphasise its advantages and enrich its perception.
Picking a frame for a picture has itself become an art form in the Postmodern era when the choice of frames is almost endless. A frame manifests the tastes and aesthetic preferences of the owner, and should not violate the internal content and balance of a piece of art. For this reason, a picture should first be carefully investigated and understood in order to choose a perfect frame.
For example, a picture in art deco style cries out for a silver, white or black frame with rounded corners and clear vertical lines. A gold or silver frame with a bit of patina would ideally suit a modern picture. Classical golden frames repeat the ornaments of ancient Greek architecture, and baroque style frames are rich with decoration, ornamentation and relief. Country style frames are painted with cherry, yellow-brown or light green tones. Overall, the importance of choosing a frame that matches the era and style of a painting cannot be overstated.
Picture frames are constantly transforming with time, and we can only guess what the future may bring. In the meantime, your artworks deserve to be framed with proper attention and care, following the rules of style and good taste.